Named but not shamed

July 10, 2014

Christopher Beedham makes excellent points in his insightful letter about the managerial blight that now paralyses UK universities (“A vote to leave the market”, Letters, 3 July).

There is, I feel, one other important point to make. Before managerialism started to afflict UK higher education, the idea of university was based on pursuing new, often eccentric, ideas. It used to be accepted that academics must be free to pursue new ideas because it is impossible to predict the future impact of research on society. Managerialism makes this impossible because it subjects the university to the demands of the market, which are based on convention and the lowest common denominator. You cannot pursue academic excellence if your university forces you to do only what is regarded as practically useful by the majority at the moment. Thus minority subjects are being eliminated by the ham-fisted research excellence framework and by funding priorities. Why, for instance, should we study the languages and cultures of Central and Eastern Europe when no one is interested in that part of the world? That certain subjects might be useful if there is a future crisis does not interest anyone now because “there is no money in it” and, allegedly, “there is no demand”. Is the spurious argument that “there is no demand” ever acceptable for a university worth its name?

Many brilliant articles have been written by many academic colleagues regarding the crisis of the UK university system. However, nothing ever happens, and nothing ever changes. It is as if academics are satisfied merely to name the problem. But this is not enough.

It is not a matter of just arguing the case convincingly. It is a question of power. It is naive to think that those who shape universities need to be given convincing arguments that their policies are wrong and that when they have seen the light, things will change. Those who run universities are interested in power, not in argumentation. They will continue doing what suits them because they can. What are we going to do about it?

Jan Čulik
Senior lecturer in Czech
University of Glasgow

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